Hawaii’s First Electric Lights

On July 21, 1886, over five thousand people watched Hawaii’s first electric lights illuminate Iolani Palace for the first time. The crowd densely filled the areas between the government building’s entrance and the adjacent Richard Street. The Daily Bulletin describes the scene:

“Society people in evening costumes promenaded Palace Square and listened to the music of the Hawaiian Band. The native military companies, commanded by His Majesty the King, who was assisted by Major Baker Adjutant Baker and Col. On horseback, Iaukea reviewed the troops and led them into the Government Building’s yard, where arms were stacked and ranks broken for the tea party. In tents, soldiers enjoyed coffee, tea, and ice-cream was served to the soldiers.”

Eventually, the five arc lights flooded the palace grounds, Palace Square, and Richard Street with a “soft but brilliant light.” Iolani Palace became one of the first royal residences with electric lighting in the world.

Four months later on November 25, 1886, arc lights illuminated King Kalakaua’s jubilee birthday ball around Iolani Palace, which was “light as day.” With the Royal Hawaiian Band playing, guests danced and dined past midnight, and hula dancers performed.

On March 21, 1888, Honolulu Electric Works was almost complete in setting up the lights in Honolulu and needed just a few machinery from the United States. A reporter attended a tour of the Electric Light Station in Nuuanu and wrote about the machinery of the water-driven plant.

Finally, a few days later on March 24 at 7 p.m., Princess Liliuokalani, Princess Kaiulani, and Minister Lorrin A. Thurston met superintendent Faulkner and Eassie at the Electric Light Station. Faulkner flipped the switch, lighting up Honolulu’s streets with electricity for the first time. He went around town to check the lights, and the unlit lamps lit half an hour later except for three or four lamps. Faulkner had quite an adventure:

“The two circuits–a long and a short–run by the large and small dynamos respectively. The length of the long circuit is 15 miles and that of the short 6 miles and over both of these Mr. Faulkner went yesterday. He started work at 6 yesterday morning and ended his labors at 11:15 last night. During that time he climbed 46 poles and he now rejoices in a pair of beautiful black ancles [sic], they have been well bruised by the climbing spurs. He also enjoyed a shock while up one of the poles, and barely saved himself from falling. It is the heaviest he has ever experienced and he says he doesn’t hanker after another.”

The next day, The Daily Bulletin expressed hope that more streets in Honolulu will be lit and writes that the electric lighting “marks one more step in the progress and prosperity of Honolulu.”

– Alice Kim


“Electric Light”
The Daily bulletin, July 22, 1886, Image 3

“Jubilee Ball”
The Daily bulletin, November 26, 1886, Image 3

“Honolulu Electric Works: Starting of the Machinery, Everything Works Well”
Daily bulletin., March 21, 1888, Image 3

“Electric Lighting of Honolulu: A Success. A Brilliant Display”
The Daily bulletin, March 24, 1888, Image 3

“The Electric Light”
The Daily bulletin, March 24, 1888, Image 2


One Comment on “Hawaii’s First Electric Lights”

  1. […] a long-ago summer night, thousands of people gathered on the grounds of Iolani Palace for what might be described as an illuminating tea party with David Kalakaua, Hawaii’s last […]

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